Friday, December 14, 2007

Solar firm building plant in Las Vegas

Ausra, the Palo Alto company with plans to build utility-scale solar plants in California and Florida, announced Thursday that it has started building an assembly plant in Las Vegas.

The 130,000-square-foot plant, near Las Vegas McCarran International Airport, will employ 50 people when it opens in April.

John O'Donnell, Ausra's executive vice president, said the plant will be heavily automated and rely on multiple robots to manufacture the parts and pieces needed to construct a solar power plant.

Those systems will be trucked to San Luis Obispo County, where Ausra will build a plant that will generate 177 megawatts of power for Pacific Gas & Electric.

In a year, O'Donnell said, the manufacturing plant will make enough reflectors, towers, tubes and other solar components to create solar collectors capable of generating 700 megawatts of power. One megawatt can power 750 homes.

"We're going to make twice as much stuff in a year as the entire world solar industry is making today," he said.

Ausra uses flat mirrors that boil water to create steam that turn turbines to produce electricity. O'Donnell wouldn't say how much it will cost to build the plant. In September, Ausra got $40 million from Khosla Ventures and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, two Silicon Valley venture capital heavyweights with big investments in clean technology.

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